Thursday, 19 May 2022

Bright lights of the West End beckon for Peter Pan

NEVERLAND is far too good a creation to have only one visit. But JM Barrie never

NEVERLAND is far too good a creation to have only one visit. But JM Barrie never went there again after his story of Peter Pan, Tinkerbell, Captain Hook and the Darlings.

It seems a waste — after all, how many times did CS Lewis go to Narnia?

So we can thank the author Geraldine McCaughrean for scheduling another fairydust-fuelled flight there.

And we can thank even more the Oxford Playhouse for turning it into a piece of energised, fast-moving theatre.

Director Theresa Heskins throws everything at this show: music, acrobatics, dance, singing — even acting.

Finding the the performers with the extraordinary skills to do all of this cannot have been easy, but the result is a spectacular success.

Beneath this flamboyant display lies a deeply unhappy truth: childhood innocence must always die.

In this case it’s even more poignant as it takes the hole in the force left by the First World War and allows it to burn through to the fantasy world of Neverland, disrupting both.

The characters from the original story are now grown up but they’re having nightmares — Neverland is leaking through into their world — or, as it turns out, it’s their foul corrupted world which is breaking up Neverland. They must do something about it. So they find a way back to Neverland and become children again.

Hook is gone, eaten by the croc — or is he? Tinkerbell is replaced by a constantly ravenous fairy called Firefly.

Peter Pan finds them again and this time, because there’s nothing to stop him, turns himself into a tyrannical pirate captain and the others into his crew.

Lots of adventures later they manage to heal the hole and restore some kind of moral balance to their worlds — a lot easier to do in a two-hour stage show than in the century that followed the Great War.

It’s a professional show and we shouldn’t marvel, therefore, at the professionalism, but still I do. The skills required to climb ropes while singing or reciting lines, to do handstands, to cartwheel expertly and to maintain a childish simplicity in a sophisticated story is breathtaking.

All of this accompanied, almost continuously, by a very effective musical backdrop which occasionally breaks into song or seriously good clarinet playing.

The musical director James Atherton wrote all of that and it contributes in a big way to the pace and pulse of the show.

This is unquestionably a hit. Will it stay in Oxford for its three-week run (where it is booking until Sunday, September 4)? Or will it transfer to the West End?

This one has big-ticket Christmas show written right through it, so maybe London beckons.

Review: Mike Rowbottom

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